US launches national security probe into uranium imports

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in the East Room of the White House

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Wednesday that he has launched a new national security investigation into uranium imports that could lead to tariffs or quotas to limit them.

The formal probe, which follows a petition filed by US uranium mining companies, is to examine whether the current "quantity and circumstances" of imports of uranium ore and uranium products threaten national security, the department said in a statement.

The investigation announced Wednesday was requested by two USA uranium-mining companies, UR-Energy and Energy Fuels.

"Our production of uranium necessary for military and electric power has dropped from 49 per cent of our consumption to 5 per cent, " Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said.

"The Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security will conduct a thorough, fair, and transparent review to determine whether uranium imports threaten to impair national security", Ross in a statement.

"It is abundantly clear that Canadian uranium exports do not present a national security threat to the United States", said Neumann in a statement.

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The uranium inquiry is the latest of several trade-related steps the Trump administration has taken with an eye toward imposing stiff tariffs on imports.

The uranium imported into the United States now comes mostly from Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan and Russian Federation. They called for a quota that reserves 25 percent of USA demand for domestic production.

Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy produce more than half of US uranium.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in May that uranium production plummeted in the first quarter of this year to 226.8 million pounds.

"The U.S. uranium industry has produced at well over those levels in the past, and the proposed remedies would allow the industry to get back to those production levels at minimal cost to the nuclear utility industry", it said.

"Uranium is a required component of our nuclear arsenal and is used to power the Navy's nuclear fleet of submarines and aircraft carriers", he said.

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"While U.S. producers can fairly compete with foreign production on a level playing field, it is hard for them to compete with heavily subsidized foreign production", they said in a joint statement. Compounding the problem was a global supply glut that prompted Kazakhstan, the world's biggest producer, to cut back a year ago.

In addition to being used in nuclear weapons, uranium fuels about 20 percent of US electricity generation and is used to power nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.

"A robust domestic uranium mining industry is not only critical for national security, it's essential for Wyoming's economy", Enzi said.

Uranium fuels 99 USA commercial nuclear reactors that produce 20 per cent of the power for the country's electricity grid. But they say they have laid off roughly half of their combined employees and are operating at just 9 percent and 13.5 percent of capacity, respectively. "If the issue in question is the over-reliance of the United States on uranium supplied by state-controlled enterprises from countries not aligned with American policy interests, this clearly does not apply to Canada or Cameco", Gitzel said.

The companies asked the government to place a quota on imports that would preserve one-quarter of the USA market for domestic uranium.

The Trump administration is invoking a clause in US law called Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act.

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